Dutch Cocoa Powder vs. Regular

Cocoa powder is an essential baking ingredient used to add rich chocolate flavor and color to cakes, cookies, brownies, frostings, and more. However, not all cocoa powders are created equal.

Dutch Cocoa Powder vs. Regular

The two main types of cocoa powder are Dutch process and natural cocoa powder.

They have distinct differences in color, flavor, acidity, and how they interact with leavening agents like baking soda and powder.

How Cocoa Powder Is Made

First, it helps to understand what cocoa powder is and how it's produced. Cocoa powder comes from cacao beans that grow in pod-like fruits on cacao trees. To make cocoa powder, the cacao beans are:

  • Fermented
  • Dried
  • Roasted
  • Cracked to separate the outer shell
  • Ground into a liquid paste called chocolate liquor
  • Pressed to remove 75-85% of the cocoa butter
  • Pulverized into a fine powder

This leaves us with the dry, solid cocoa powder we use in baking. Let's look closer at the two types:

Natural Cocoa Powder

Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted, pressed, and ground. It undergoes no chemical processing after the beans are extracted.

The Color

Natural cocoa powder has a light reddish-brown color. The exact hue can range from light tan to dark reddish-brown depending on the cocoa bean source and roasting time.

The Flavor

The taste of natural cocoa powder is strong, bitter, and acidic. It provides an intense chocolate flavor with fruity, citrusy notes. Think of the bracing taste of dark chocolate.

Due to its acidity, natural cocoa powder can leave an astringent, slightly bitter aftertaste if not combined with enough sugar and fat. It contains between pH 5-6.

Uses in Baking

Natural cocoa powder is commonly used alongside baking soda as a chemical leavening agent. When baking soda (a base) meets the acid in natural cocoa, it creates carbon dioxide bubbles that help lift and expand the batter.

You'll frequently see natural cocoa paired with baking soda in recipes for cakes, cookies, breads, muffins, and other baked goods that need to rise. It can also be used in unbaked goods like chocolate frosting or pudding.

Key Takeaway: Natural cocoa powder has a reddish-brown color and strong, bitter cocoa taste. It is acidic and commonly used with baking soda as a leavening agent.

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder

Dutch process, also called alkalized, cocoa undergoes a chemical treatment to reduce its natural acidity. This process was invented by a Dutch chocolate maker named Coenraad Johannes van Houten in the 19th century.

The Process

To make Dutch process cocoa:

  • Cocoa beans are soaked in a potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate solution
  • This neutralizes their acidity and raises the pH from 5-6 to closer to 7
  • The beans are then dried and ground into powder

The Color

Dutching gives the cocoa powder a much darker brown color, from deep brown to nearly black. Black cocoa powder is Dutch process taken to the extreme.

The Flavor

The alkalization process removes some of the acids and bitter notes, leaving Dutch process cocoa powder with a milder, less tart taste. It has richer chocolate flavor with earthy, nutty, woodsy notes instead of fruity tartness.

Uses in Baking

Since Dutch process cocoa lacks acidity, it does not activate baking soda. Recipes using Dutch process cocoa tend to be leavened with baking powder instead. The baking powder provides its own acidity.

Dutch process cocoa is popular for chocolate cakes, cookies, frostings, and other baked goods that need chemical leavening. It works well in recipes that already include some acidity like brown sugar, buttermilk, or vinegar. You can also use it in unbaked items like chocolate ganache, pudding, or ice cream.

Key Takeaway: Dutch process cocoa has a very dark brown color and a milder, less acidic taste. It does not react with baking soda so more often calls for baking powder.

Natural vs Dutch Process Cocoa: Key Differences

Here is a summary of the key differences between natural and Dutch process cocoa powder:

Natural CocoaDutch Process Cocoa
Light reddish-brown colorVery dark brown, nearly black
Strong, bitter, acidic tasteMilder, mellower chocolate taste
pH between 5-6Neutralized to pH 6-8
Pairs well with baking sodaPairs well with baking powder

Are Natural and Dutch Cocoa Interchangeable?

Whether you can swap natural for Dutch process cocoa depends on the recipe:

  • In recipes without chemical leaveners like brownies, frosting, sauces, etc. you can freely substitute one for the other. The main impact will be on color and flavor.
  • In recipes with baking soda or baking powder, you typically want to use the type of cocoa specified. Natural cocoa powder won't react properly with baking powder only. And Dutch process cocoa won't provide enough acidity for recipes leavened only with baking soda.
  • When a recipe calls for both baking powder and baking soda, either Dutch process or natural cocoa should work since there is both acidity and alkalinity from the leaveners. Sticking with what's specified is ideal, but you can often swap between the cocoas.
  • As a rule of thumb, you can replace Dutch process cocoa with natural cocoa more reliably than the reverse. Natural cocoa powder will add back some of the missing acidity from Dutch process cocoa.

How to Substitute Natural Cocoa for Dutch Process

If you must use natural cocoa when a recipe calls for Dutch process, expect the following:

  • Cakes and cookies will be lighter in color with more reddish tones.
  • The chocolate taste will be more tart, acidic, and bitter.
  • Baked goods may rise slightly less without the alkalinity of Dutch process cocoa.

To minimize changes, replace baking powder with half the amount of baking soda (for example, use 1 tsp soda if the recipe calls for 2 tsp powder). The baking soda will help neutralize the acidity of the natural cocoa powder.

How to Substitute Dutch Process Cocoa for Natural

If you only have Dutch process cocoa but a recipe calls for natural, here is what to expect:

  • Baked goods will be darker in color, closer to black.
  • The chocolate taste will be mellower and less tart.
  • Items may not rise properly since Dutch process cocoa doesn't react with baking soda.

To improve the rise, replace the baking soda with twice the amount of baking powder (for example, use 2 tsp powder if the recipe calls for 1 tsp soda). The extra baking powder provides needed acidity and leavening.

What If a Recipe Doesn't Specify Cocoa Type?

When a recipe simply calls for "cocoa powder" or "unsweetened cocoa" without specifying Dutch process or natural, here are some tips:

  • Older American recipes likely mean natural cocoa powder. Dutch process wasn't common in the US until the 1900s.
  • European recipes likely mean Dutch process cocoa since it's more popular there.
  • Check the leavening - baking soda alone indicates natural cocoa, while baking powder alone suggests Dutch process.
  • When in doubt, natural cocoa powder is a safer choice that will work for most recipes.

Tips for Using Different Cocoa Powders

  • Store all cocoa powders in a cool, dry place away from light and humidity. Cocoa powder lasts about 2 years stored properly.
  • Do not substitute hot cocoa mix for natural or Dutch process cocoa powder. Drink mixes contain sugar and other ingredients.
  • You can find Dutch process and natural cocoa powders with varying amounts of cocoa butter from 10-24%. More cocoa butter gives a richer taste.
  • "Black cocoa" refers to an intensely alkalized, very dark Dutch process cocoa with strong flavor. Use it sparingly combined with other cocoa.
  • "Cocoa rouge" is a reddish Dutch process cocoa with rich taste.
  • Some recipes call for "blooming" the cocoa powder in hot water or coffee to intensify the flavor.


What's better, Dutch process or natural cocoa powder?

Neither is better universally. Dutch process cocoa provides a richer, darker color and more mellow chocolate taste. Natural cocoa offers a lighter color and sharper, more intense chocolate flavor.

Can I use sweetened cocoa powder in place of unsweetened?

No, do not substitute sweetened cocoa powder or hot cocoa mixes for unsweetened natural or Dutch process cocoa. Sweetened cocoa won't provide the right chocolate flavor for baked goods.

Is Dutch process cocoa healthier than natural?

Dutch process cocoa may lose some antioxidants and nutrients during alkalization. However, both types of cocoa offer health benefits from compounds like flavonoids and are considered relatively equal.

What if my recipe calls for both baking soda and baking powder?

When a recipe already contains both baking soda and baking powder, you can generally use either natural or Dutch process cocoa successfully. The combination of acid and alkali from the leaveners balances the cocoa.


While Dutch process and natural cocoa are made from the same raw cocoa beans, they produce very different results. Dutch process cocoa powder is darker, milder, and doesn't react with baking soda. Natural cocoa powder is lighter, more bitter, and activates baking soda for lift.

Knowing when to use each type of cocoa ensures your recipes turn out as intended. Look for cues like leavening agents and cocoa color descriptions. When in doubt, natural cocoa powder is the safer choice for substitution. With practice, you will become more comfortable with how to incorporate different cocoas into your delicious baked goods.

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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